Motorcycles, Street Food, Ho Chi Minh, Hanoi, HaLong Bay, Hue
Living Outside the Boundaries – Vietnam
Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
In Vietnam the driving is the most chaotic schizophrenic style I have ever seen, even more so than Italy or Egypt. As the taxi from the airport sat at the red light, it seemed like hundreds of motorcycles appeared. When the light turned green it was a free for all and there were near misses between bikes, cars, motorcycles and cyclos (a three wheeled bicycle taxi). It wasn’t rush hour yet!
A few hours later, on the first night in country, I found myself on the back of a motorcycle in the heart of rush hour traffic zooming through green lights and leaning into the twists and turns. It was scary as hell and exhilarating at the same time. I found the “Back of the Bike Tour” in an airline magazine. It’s a tour of Ho Chi Minh City’s street food. The tour started off at a food stall in District 1. The first meal was a salad of dried beef, shredded green mango, a variety of greens, peanuts with a sweet and savory sauce. It was phenomenal. By the end of the night the group had visited several districts with the last stop for dessert back in District 1. I ate so much I could not look at food the next day. I could eat it, I just couldn’t look at it. HA! HA! This tour was a great introduction to Vietnam’s traffic and food. When you are on the back of the bike you realize that Vietnam’s traffic is highly organized mass chaos. When I asked Ngyuet, my driver, about crossing the street, which is a big concern for most tourists, she said “Just close your eyes and go”. Then she let out a big laugh. Finally she said “You are like rock in the water. The motorcycles are the water. They don’t go through you, they go around. Be like rock”. The next day I did just as she said, I was “˜like rock’ and never feared crossing the street. I am a rock! That metaphor applies to a lot of situations in our lives. I am sure that story will make its way into one of my speeches because it is now one of my favorite stories. When I come across adversity I will remember to “be like rock”. After the night on the bike, the next day I walked around the city, took a nap at 4:00 p.m. and didn’t wake up until 10:00 a.m. the next day. The heat beat me up every day in Vietnam.
War Remnant Museum
Visiting the War Remnant Museum in Ho Chi Minh City was the equivalent of ripping off a bandage slowly. I felt like some of the information was propaganda but the truth that seeped out was painful to see, mentally exhausting and each exhibit brought tears to my eyes. The exhibit on the effects of Agent Orange was too much. I did not finish it. I will stop here because this blog is not political in any shape or form so I will leave you with this picture of a statue from the museum. I continue to pray that war around the world ceases.
Scenes from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
Clockwise from top right you see me and a group of young people who had a sign that said “Ask Me Anything”. You know me, we talked for almost an hour and they wanted to take a picture with me so I let them take a picture with my camera, a brief relief from my terrible selfies.Then you see my well cropped selfie in front of the Saigon Notre Dame Basillica built by the French in the late 1800s. The next picture is from the second stop on the street food tour. He made crispy pancakes filled with pork and a mixture of greens like lettuce and mint leaves. Then the filled pancake is rolled and wrapped in rice paper with a scrumptious dipping sauce. There was definitely a party in my mouth! Finally the central post office, a tourist attraction because of the style of the building but a great place to mail your post cards or packages. Inside is reminiscent of old railway stations or banks with high ceilings.
Hanoi, while hectic and crazy was a bit of a break from the noise pollution of Saigon. Motorcycles still rule in Hanoi but there are so many bicycles and cyclos thrown in the mix it just seemed more peaceful. I walked around Lake Hoan Kiem everyday. It was an oasis of peace in the heart of old town. You can see pictures of the lake below. It takes about 30 minutes to circle the lake. Since the weather was cooler, some days I took two laps around.
I really liked this sculpture at the Women’s Museum in Hanoi. The exhibits show the strength and courage of the Vietnamese woman. During the war they played an integral part in the victory. As I strolled throughout the streets of Hanoi I witnessed hard working women on a daily basis. By the way, the baskets the women carry are heavy. If you find yourself in Hanoi, the Women’s Museum is a must see.
Ha Long Bay
Ha Long Bay is situated north of Hanoi and is only a few hours away by bus. I could have taken a day trip but I chose to take an overnight on a cruise ship. It was a good idea. Travel Tip:When the hotel’s tour desk shows you the brochure of the boat just remember you are looking at pictures when the boat was brand new. What you get is very different. Overall my cabin and the bathroom was huge. It made up for aged and weathered look of the ship.
Ha Long bay has emerald green water and thousands of islands made up of limestone. It is beautiful. But as you can see, on the day I visited it was overcast and the sun was resting behind the clouds. I was not complaining.
The Imperial Palace and the Citadel draw people to Hue. The town is quaint and sits on the banks of the Perfume River. I did not make a connection with Hue, therefore I stayed for three days only. I am sure there is a lot to see and do in Hue but I chose to spend more time in my air conditioned hotel room. Hope you like the pics I took of the Imperial Palace, Citadel and Library.